The Portage la Prairie School Division got word today that Grade 7-12 students will be returning to in-class learning as planned next week.

Students in the aforementioned grades have been learning from home as part of an extended Christmas break, but as COVID numbers across the province trend downward, the Jan. 18 return date is now official.

"We received word this afternoon that the plan to resume in-class learning, which was initially slated for Jan. 18, will in fact hold, and that the province will be expecting that students from Grade 7 to 12 would resume in-class instruction," says PLPSD Superintendent, Todd Cuddington. "We are looking forward to welcoming students back. Learning has been continuing remotely, and it's been quite successful... But you know, our goal has always been to maintain in-class learning to the greatest extent possible and so we look forward to having people back in school and resuming learning in a more traditional way."

Cuddington says that principals throughout the division have reported that engagement during the extending Christmas break has been good, and staff has been involved with professional development over this period. But based on feedback they've received, the majority of parents prefer having their child in the classroom with a teacher in front of them.

"There's a social component as well for kids and we want them to be less isolated," says the Superintendent. "A lot of people and students, in particular, haven't had those same opportunities through sports and extracurricular activities, so when you cut off regular daily contact with peers that they would normally have at school, it isolates. So I think they'll be looking forward to having that."

Cuddington says that it is important for students and staff to continue to self-screen for COVID symptoms prior to heading to school each day and that sanitizing and social distancing will be a high priority. He notes these practices have worked rather effectively so far and points to the small number of reported COVID cases in area schools as proof.

"We've been very fortunate in Portage to have had very few cases, considering our student population and number of staff, and I think that's because people have followed the basics really well," says Cuddington. "Hats off to our teachers and all of our support staff and the people in the division who just continue to do amazing work. We're looking forward to starting off the new year with students and staff remaining healthy and we're glad that the announcement came today. It'll give parents some time to prepare, and the division as well."